71 years after day of infamy, Pittsburgh schools plan no Pearl Harbor programs
Roscoe Mulvey carries with him a sense of the role he and other veterans played in World War II.
“To be called upon to protect the country,” said Mulvey, 89, a Harmony resident who was wounded on Aug. 25, 1944, in Troyes, France. “You didn't worry about being killed; we just did what we had to do.”
As World War II veterans and others pause on Friday to remember the day 71 years ago that catapulted a generation into war, some worry their stories are lost to generations of youngsters who don't know what happened.
Just before 8 a.m. Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, sinking or badly damaging 18 ships and destroying or damaging nearly 350 aircrafts. American deaths numbered 2,403, including 68 civilians. More than 1,100 military personnel and civilians were wounded.
No special programs will mark the day in Pittsburgh Public Schools, the state's second-largest school district, where students learn about Pearl Harbor in 11th-grade history classes, spokesperson Ebony Pugh said. Several other school districts also said they planned no programs.
“There's not as many of those guys left, not as many able to visit schools,” said Ron Conley, Allegheny County's director of Veterans Services. “It depends on the school. If they don't say the Pledge of Allegiance, why would they talk about Pearl Harbor?”
About 45,000 World War II veterans live in Allegheny County, many in personal care homes, he said.
Westmoreland County is home to 4,100 World War II veterans, according to Matt Zamosky, director of the the county's Veterans Affairs office.
Seneca Valley High School history teacher James Lucot taught students about Pearl Harbor on Thursday. Lucot, who visited Pearl Harbor this summer, supplements the textbook with what he has learned from talking to veterans.
“I've learned way more in one hour with those fellows than I have in books,” Lucot said.
Michael Peuler, a Vietnam War veteran from Cranberry, considers World War II veterans an extraordinary group.
“The average person can't understand how scared scared is. ... You react, you do your job, but when it's over, you can't imagine how you did it,” said Peuler, who attended a veterans breakfast this week on behalf of his father-in-law, Howard C. Dillaman, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was in the third wave at Normandy. He died last year at 91.
Complaints that younger generations don't recognize the sacrifices of older ones are not new, a military historian said.
“If we had a 150-year-old Civil War veteran alive today, he'd be saying the same thing about the Civil War,” said Doug Sterner, a Vietnam War veteran and military historian in Alexandria, Va. “The Pearl Harbor story is one that will never be lost to time.”
Many people dropped out of high school after the Pearl Harbor attack and signed up for military service. Once there, they continued to volunteer.
“When I flew 200 hours, I went back and volunteered for two more 25-hour increments,” said Thomas W. Shepard Jr., 92, of Cranberry, a former P-47 fighter pilot.
Today's attitudes are different, said Todd DePastino, executive director of the Veterans Breakfast Club, which brings vets together to share stories.
“Just one half of 1 percent of all eligible people serve,” DePastino said. “There is an increasing gap between people who served and those who did not.”
Craig Smith is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.